"...this patch brings the game much closer to where it should have been on retail launch."
It's been a little over two months since FFXIV hit retail shelves, and in that time Square Enix has extended the free trial period once again in hopes of salvaging its player base. The heat is definitely on, as the company has been rushing to fix many of the issues identified in the maligned MMORPG. Thus far we were told about two large scale updates to the game that would mend the ailing world of Eorzea. Last week we had the first of these major patches, designed primarily to address problems with gameplay and interface. We're going to look over the details and weigh in on their worth.
Doing the Unstuck
One of the major adjustments this update brought to Eorzea was changing how skill points are awarded. For the uninitiated, Skill Points (SP) are what increases the Rank of your currently-equipped class. Higher ranks reward you with more HP, MP, Weapon Skills, Spells, Action Points (for equipping abilities) and is the basis for the efficacy of equipment. It's the equivalent of levels in other MMORPGs. Experience Points (EXP) are still gained and contribute to your avatar's Physical Level, which gives you points to allocate into your vital statistics. Think of Physical Level as your degree of fitness/intelligence and your Rank as proficiency in your job.
Previously, SP was gained during combat in random amounts as actions were performed. After combat the final SP tally was awarded and could vary from zero to 500. Experience points remained fairly static based on the difficulty of the mob. Much of the player frustration stemmed from having SP gained so haphazardly. Players could go for long stretches of battle without making any real progress on improving their class. With the patch, SP has changed to work exactly like EXP and is awarded in fixed amounts after every fight. This change required a rebalance of how much SP could be gained per fight. The end result was much less SP than was previously obtainable per kill, but is rewarded consistently, so the overall impact on progression is improved. In fact, this also contributes to the incentives recently introduced for group guildleves.
The More the Merrier
Previously, you could extend your guildleve playtime by sharing your quests with others. While you could only obtain 3 random leves per area (for a total of 8 every 36 hours), you could leve-share with others who may have gotten different quests for the same location. The problem with grouping during leves was that the SP/EXP gain was cut dramatically depending on how many were in the party. This was offset by being able to do more than a single player's share of leves. Of course you could set the difficulty of the leve based on group size for increased SP gain, but if you overestimated your strength you would fail the leve completely.
With this update we've seen a major overhaul of the guildleve system. Previously, if anyone was on the same leve they would automatically complete it when the group did. Now, players who have the same leves can opt to leve-link their quests to the one currently running. Not only did this give players the option of saving leves for later, linking them gives a significant boost to SP/EXP gain from quest mobs. The more people who leve-link, the higher the bonus. Also, the more people participating in the leve, the larger a boost is awarded, via the party bonus. In addition, players can adjust the difficulty of a leve mid-quest should the challenge prove too great. This change really made a significant improvement in the efficiency of guildleves for character progression. Unfortunately, many leves still suffer from poor SP gain due to limited mobs or woefully inadequate SP worth, even when leve-linked. The issue with guildleves failing automatically with a player disconnect has yet to be addressed. Hopefully a rebalance and revision is on the near horizon.
To top off these character progression improvements, this patch also reduced the SP needed for ranks 11-31. The real treat was that no previously gained SP was lost, so many players logged in a rank higher after the patch. The rank requirements were simply shifted down.
The next major goal in this version update was to review and revamp many class abilities and statistics. There was a painful reduction in the HP bonus from the Vitality statistic, but the revision of class abilities saw an overwhelming increase in their efficacy and frequency. This helped improve specific class roles in group play as well.
With the rebalancing, the players saw several well-known exploits and overpowered abilities identified and fixed. While many players complained over this handful of much-needed nerfs, the fact that Square Enix still has an eye on the integrity of their game instead of caving in to every user whim is promising.
The guildleve monetary rewards were reviewed and were redistributed to ensure that the majority of the wealth was more evenly distributed across all ranks. Likewise, local leves had their rewards improved dramatically. Heck, they even reduced the crystal cost of most synthesis recipes by 20%.
This patch also saw an increase in monster populations with a more dispersed distribution. We've even seen the addition of new kinds of monsters. So, while the amount of content hasn't really increased, this does help improve the impression of Eorzea being an empty, dead world.
Last, but certainly not least, is the improvement to the user interface. The delay previously experienced while navigating between menus and interacting with merchant NPCs has been dramatically reduced. Selling items no longer takes 10 seconds between menus, and navigating your inventory is no longer a slide show. We finally received an inventory sorting option and a more intuitive repair menu system. All item icons are now color-coded based on their level of disrepair, so players can tell at a glance which items needs fixing. In addition, we saw an increase in inventory size from 80 to 100 as well as an increase in stack size for many items. Archers can finally breathe a sigh of relief as their ammo stacks have improved from 99 to 999.
This version update brought back many mainstays from FFXI such as text commands for map location, hotkey commands for chat reply and key binding options! Log transparency and a macro cut and paste are also noteworthy additions. We can now also reposition all aspects of the UI and now have an SP/EXP gauge that is displayed onscreen at all times.
While we did not see the introduction of Chocobos or airships for transport, we did see a reduction in anima cost for teleporting to the major cities and returning to a bound Aetheryte. They even included the option of setting three locations as favorites for half the anima teleport cost.
On the technical side they've added additional graphics options which should help a greater number of players with performance issues.
Smoothing the Way
Overall, the first of these two major updates to the game has made a dramatic improvement in player progression and ease of use. The adjustments to the guildleve systems and the revamping of SP gain were much needed and greatly appreciated by the players. The reduction of SP needed for rank-up for 11-31 was an unexpected treat. Rebalancing class abilities and fixing exploits was also a smart move early on. The vastly improved UI response time and more streamlined approach to the menu systems were necessary improvements, but are appreciated nonetheless.
While there are still major issues to be addressed such as the lack of content, an absent auction house and poor mouse and keyboard integration, this patch brings the game much closer to where it should have been on retail launch. Because of the significant improvements introduced with this version update, the score has been revisited.
Graphics - 94% > 96%
Sound - 56%
Gameplay - 40% > 60%
Control - 38% > 60%
Story - 60%
Overall - 50% > 65%